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Sandy Hook defamation trial is imminent, but first Alex Jones needs a jury

The proceedings four years in the making took a detour this month to bankruptcy court and also included hearings to determine whether Alex Jones’ attorneys should face discipline.

WATERBURY, Conn. (CN) — Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones faces his latest court appearance as a long-awaited defamation trial on his rhetoric that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax kicks off Thursday with jury selection.

The process of seating a jury in Waterbury, Connecticut, initially began over two weeks earlier, but attorneys for the parties had interviewed only two individuals before Jones’ counsel Norman Pattis filed a notice that removed the case to federal bankruptcy court. Pattis said the case pending against Jones in Waterbury since 2018 was related to the bankruptcy proceedings newly initiated by Jones' company, Free Speech Systems, both Jones and the company are named as defendants.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Julie Manning in Bridgeport remanded the case to state court earlier this week. Citing the complexity of the case and the fact jury selection had already begun, Manning said the civil case against Jones could proceed.

“The Plaintiffs’ claims are ready to be tried in the Connecticut Superior Court. If remand does not occur, the prejudice to the Plaintiffs is much greater than any possible prejudice to [Free Speech Systems],” the judge wrote.

Once selected, the panel of six jurors and four alternates is scheduled to begin hearing evidence on Sept. 6.

The Connecticut proceedings is the second lawsuit that Jones faces over his public insistence on his radio show that the 2012 massacre in Newton, Connecticut, that ended the lives of six educators and 20 first-graders never happened. Jones has said the families of the victims are only crisis actors.

Jones is being sued here by 15 people, including the daughter of the school principal who died in the shooting and a first responder who came upon the scene. Earlier this month, a jury in Texas awarded the parents of a boy killed at Sandy Hook $49.3 million after the proceedings against Jones wrapped up there.

The pretrial proceedings, now drawing to a close, have been bitterly fought. In November, because Jones failed to comply with discovery orders, Waterbury Judge Barbara Bellis handed down a default judgment sanction: Jones was assumed liable for defaming the Sandy Hook families, and the trial would determine only how much he owed them.

During the case's briefly detour to federal bankruptcy court, meanwhile, one more issue cropped up before the case could return to Bellis’ courtroom.

Hearing that medical records of the Sandy Hook families may have ended up in the hands of unauthorized individuals, Bellis ordered attorneys Pattis and Andino Reynal — who represented Jones in the Texas case and who briefly sought to appear pro hac vice in the Connecticut case — to show why they should not be disciplined for mishandling information.

Professor Leslie Levin at the University of Connecticut School of Law, an expert in attorney ethics and regulation, said judges in the state can themselves look into whether their orders have been violated, although they typically refer those kinds of matters to the disciplinary authorities.

“It's not common to have this come up in the proceeding like this at all,” Levin said. “And often, if there are allegations of misconduct, they're handled at the end of the matter and not at this stage.”

Bellis noted in earlier hearings that the alleged conduct of Pattis and Reynal is the third and fourth disciplinary issue in the case.

“It’s actually quite shocking,” Bellis said at a remote hearing this past Wednesday.

A transcript notes that Bellis referred Pattis to disciplinary counsel after she said he filed an affidavit attributed to Jones but with a signature that was not the radio host’s. A grievance panel found probable cause that the lawyer acted improperly.

In court Wednesday morning, Pattis, wearing blue running shoes and his trademark ponytail, leaned back in a wooden chair next to his attorney, Wesley Mead, as Bellis heard testimony to determine what records were sent and who sent them.

At the other table sat Brian Staines, Connecticut chief disciplinary counsel. Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the Sandy Hook families, was in the courtroom not as his clients’ representative but as a witness.

Mattei testified that the last amendment to the case’s protective order came in June 2021, a major move designating certain materials classified, highly classified and attorneys' eyes only.

The change came from a worry by Mattei and the other attorneys, he said, that if Jones got his hands on the medical records of their clients, he may disclose them.

“We thought it a real concern given Jones’ conduct during discovery,” Mattei said.

Among the 390,000 pages of materials the Sandy Hook families provided during discovery, Mattei said, some of the most sensitive information were medical records, “corrective medication” and counseling records. Communications between family members were included as well.

Mattei testified that Pattis sent him a text message on Aug. 3 that, as Mattei recounted from memory on the stand, said, “Please call me. Either I or my office may have violated the protective order.”

Mattei then communicated by letter, asking for a sworn declaration on what happened with the materials. Mattis said he is still unaware of what material may have been disclosed.

Only Kyung Lee, a Houston-based bankruptcy attorney who represented some of Jones’ companies, sent a declaration that said he received a “white external hard disk” from Pattis that he never reviewed. When Reynal asked for the disk, Lee said he personally gave it to him in May or June.

In court Wednesday, Staines, the state disciplinary lawyer, held up a black-and-white printout of the text message between Pattis and Mattei. Mead objected but Bellis overruled him.

“I’m not going to be left to guess,” Bellis shot back, saying communications like the text messages “will come before me.”

In support of Pattis, the court heard from a handful of character witnesses appearing via teleconferencing software. Stephen Sedensky III, a now-retired state lawyer who helped investigate the Sandy Hook shooting, described Pattis as both very ethical and an “advocate for his client.” Sedensky said Pattis once brought a matter regarding confidential records to the court’s attention during a child abuse case. Sedensky said he “felt it was very straightforward, when other counsel may not have done that.”

Jones’ attorneys are set to testify regarding the medical information at two more days of hearings next week.

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